Patrick De La Cerda murder: Inside the case
In 2018, the Deltona, Florida, man was newly engaged and planning for his wedding until he was tragically gunned down at his home.
Patrick De La Cerda and his fiancée Jessica Devnani were looking forward to their future wedding. The couple met on a dating app called Plenty Fish in June 2017.
A Romance Begins
Their relationship quickly blossomed in a matter of months. The couple traveled and explored together.
Patrick De La Cerda had shared his feelings for Jessica Devnani with his mother, Patricia Ronze. "…one day he came and said, 'Mom, this one is the one,'" Ronze, pictured with her son, told "48 Hours."
Patrick and Jessica had plans to marry in West Palm Beach, Florida or in France where his mother was from.
A Special Bond
Max De La Cerda, says he could tell Jessica Devnani and his son had something special between them. "... Patrick really loved her," Max De la Cerda told "48 Hours." "And Jessica loved him more than anything."
By December 2017, Patrick De La Cerda had popped the question and Jessica Devnani happily accepted. He gave her this temporary engagement ring. "I was so excited, I was so happy my dreams were coming true," Devnani told "48 Hours." Patrick had plans to give her a custom-made engagement ring at a later date.
On the morning of February 27, 2018, Max De La Cerda received a call about a package being delivered to the Deltona, Fla., home that he shared with his son. Patrick had been expecting to receive Jessica Devnani's permanent engagement ring at any day. But Max never heard from Patrick, nor did Jessica when she tried contacting him.
Jessica Devnani, who was worried, rushed to Patrick's home and found him lying dead in a pool of blood. He had been shot four times. "My whole future was taken away from me," she told "48 Hours" "My whole world was taken away."
At the crime scene, investigators combed through Patrick De La Cerda's house. They discovered the killer had taken Patrick's computer and his hard drive from the home's security system.
Investigators were able to find unique shell casings from 300 Blackout ammunition, bullets used in semi-automatic weapons like an AR-15. "You know, right off the bat you're going, OK, this is probably going to be a whodunit," lead Detective Chad Weaver of the Volusia County Sheriff's Office told "48 Hours."
A Man From Her Past
Before dating Patrick De La Cerda, Jessica Devnani was in a tumultuous eight-year relationship with Gregory Bender, a successful hedge fund manager. Devnani said Bender could be possessive.
"I never feared what he could do to me, but I feared what he could do to other men," she told "48 Hours." The couple got engaged.
The Other Woman
While Gregory Bender was recovering from a medical procedure at the hospital, Jessica Devnani says she met another woman by his bedside. "And I told her, I'm like his fiancée, and I showed her the ring. And then she showed me her ring. She's like, 'I'm his wife!' Devnani eventually terminated her relationship with Bender.
There was one person who could not stand seeing Jessica Devnani and Patrick De La Cerda in love. That man was Gregory Bender. Devnani says Bender would often leave threatening messages for her and Patrick. Jessica had shared one of those voicemails with "48 Hours": "I'm giving instructions. And I'm going to have my plan put into action," Bender said.
A Devious Plan
While Jessica Devnani was dating Patrick De La Cerda, she says Gregory Bender invited her out on several occasions. She agreed to go because she said Bender was upset and she was trying to calm him down. "And he said that if I went to him, he would not hard anyone," Devnani said. What she didn't know at the time was Bender had a hired a private investigator to secretly record them going out to eat together at various restaurants. He then had the private investigator send the recordings to Patrick.
The Restraining Order
Eventually, both Jessica Devnani and Patrick De La Cerda had enough of Gregory Bender's antics. Devnani was able to file a restraining order against Bender with the mountain of evidence she had. The judge ruled in her favor and Bender could not contact her and had to relinquish all of his firearms to authorities.
Patrick De La Cerda and Jessica Devnani's dreams were shattered that morning in February 2018 when Jessica found Patrick dead. Earlier that morning she received two calls from Gregory Bender, whom she had not heard from in months. She told detectives she believed Greg had murdered Patrick.
It would not be the last time Detective Chad Weaver would hear Gregory Bender's name. He said Bender's ex-wife Daymara Sanchez had contacted him with information about Patrick De la Cerda's possible killer. "…she had discovered what she believed to be a murder plan in a spiral notebook that she had seen Gregory writing in in the past," Det. Weaver told "48 Hours."
The Murder Plan
With the tip from Gregory Bender's ex-wife, investigators had enough information to execute a search warrant at his home. They were able to find a similar murder plan that Daymara Sanchez described, and the same bullet casings found at the crime scene. It was enough to arrest Bender for murder, but there was still no murder weapon nor "forensic" evidence pointing to Bender as the killer.
The Murder Trial
Three years after Patrick De la Cerda's death, Gregory Bender went to trial on May 25, 2021. The weeklong trial involved both women in Bender's life – Jessica Devani and Daymara Sanchez. Bender's defense attorney told jurors that Bender should not be punished for jotting down a fantasy.'
"This case is about the difference between a fantasy and reality," defense attorney Richard Parker said in court. "People should not be judged on their worst thoughts just because they put them to paper. But that's what they're doing in this case."
After four days of testimony, jurors found Gregory Bender guilty of murder. Bender was sentenced to life in prison without parole. "We finally did it," Jessica Devnani said. "We got the guilty verdict." Bender's attorneys say they are appealing his conviction. They contend the search of his house that produced the murder plan was illegal.
Failure of the System
Despite getting justice, Jessica Devnani and Patrick De La Cerda's family are angry about the restraining order because they believe it failed to save Patrick's life. Gregory Bender had been ordered to turn over his gun collection to the Orange County Sheriff's Office. He never did, and without probable cause for a search warrant, law enforcement lacked the authority to seize those weapons.
"It failed us," Jessica told "48 Hours." It failed Patrick."
With Gregory Bender now behind bars, Jessica Devnani says she will continue to live on for Patrick De La Cerda. "We will always love him for the rest of our lives and the afterlives," Jessica told "48 Hours."